KBB Logo Expert review written by the Kelley Blue Book vehicle review editorial team.

Editor's Overview

Like a middle child, the Kia Forte is often overlooked as compact stalwarts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla hog the limelight. But the Forte has its place, offering a modest price, tasteful styling and an excellent warranty to those willing to consider an up and comer.

You'll Like The 2012 Kia Forte If...

If you’re looking for an affordable compact car with styling and features well beyond its humble $16,000 asking price, one of the three 2012 Kia Forte compact cars is bound to catch your eye. Those worried about long-term reliability should take comfort in Kia’s continually improving reliability ratings, as well as its impressively long warranty.

You May Not Like The 2012 Kia Forte If...

While some may find the 2012 Kia Forte’s looks to be enticing (especially in coupe form), the Forte’s overall performance and handling are not as solid or refined as that of the Mazda3, Ford Focus or VW Jetta.

What's New

The 2012 Kia Forte sedan and hatchback see a 1-mpg improvement in city fuel economy and 2-mpg increase in their highway figures, boosting overall mileage to 26 city/36 highway when equipped with the 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed automatic transmission.

Interior Features

Customers have been complaining for some time now about the boring interiors of compact cars, and Kia has obviously been listening. The 2012 Kia Forte sedan is given a visually appealing dash and seat setup, with lots of colorful instruments, a big LCD screen for the audio and plenty of soft-touch materials throughout the cabin. There is a lot going on inside the Kia Forte’s cabin, with multiple folds in the dash and numerous controls on the attractive 3-spoke steering wheel making the Forte feel more like a little Audi than an entry-level compact car. We applaud the standard Bluetooth connectivity and iPod integration, but feel as though a bit more attention could be paid to the seats, which lack support for the lower back and thighs. But, there is more than just interior decorating going on here, there’s also a volume story to tell. Despite its small size, the 2012 Kia Forte sedan (and to a lesser degree, the coupe model) provides a surprisingly large cabin, with more interior volume than a Nissan Maxima. The big back seat offers lots of legroom, but headroom is cut short due to the low-slung roofline. On sedan models, the trunk area is also quite large and on the 5-door hatch, the rear seats can be folded flat to create a wagon-like cargo hold.

Exterior Features

In the herd of the compact sedan/coupe/hatchback, the 2012 Kia Forte’s styling falls somewhere mid-pack. Not as modern or aggressively styled as the Ford Focus or Mazda3, the Forte easily outshines the dated Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra, and even the new Honda Civic. Although the Forte Koup steals the show, the sedan and hatchback both share the signature Kia grille and headlight design as well as tout handsome wheel choices. Base model cars don’t look the part, rejecting the unpainted bumpers, mirror caps and door handles of lesser cars and replacing them with properly painted parts for a more harmonious exterior statement. High-end Forte trims include such nice touches as sport side mirrors with integrated turn signals, and an available body kit and rear spoiler.

Driving Impressions

On the open road, the 2012 Kia Forte is the master of its domain – so long as the road to that domain remains straight and level. Toss in a few curves, however, and the base car with its smaller engine and wheel/tire combo isn’t as much fun to drive as the more powerful EX and SX trims. Even in its most aggressive SX suit, the Forte won’t deliver the kind of seat-of-your-pants cornering found in the Ford Focus or Mazda3, and its manual transmission is nowhere near as refined. What’s missing is that harmonious connection between the steering, the transmission and pedal feel, something Kia is getting better at, but still has a way to go. To gain the impressive fuel-economy figures posted by both the LX and SX trims, Kia engineers have to give up a bit of low-end torque, something we would gladly switch around if given the chance. Don’t get us wrong, the Forte is not horribly slow nor devoid of feedback to the driver, it’s just that the sporty exterior had us hoping for a bit more performance. There is much to like here, and most drivers will appreciate the 2012 Kia Forte’s quiet cabin that permits very little wind, engine or road noise to make its way in. About the only real complaint we can find with the Forte’s cabin is the high rear deck that can make backing out of parking spaces a bit dicey. We suggest the optional navigation system with its rearview camera as a remedy.

Pricing Notes

The 2012 Kia Forte sedan starts at a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) around $16,000 and tops out at about $25,000 fully loaded. The 5-door model ranges from just under $19,000 to $24,500, while the Koup starts at around $18,000 and goes to about $24,000. We expect our Fair Purchase Price to reflect real-world selling prices in line with those sticker prices. In a feature-based comparison, the 2012 Kia Forte sedan offers more for the money than many cars in the segment, including the Honda Civic and Mazda3. Substandard resale values have traditionally erased Kia’s up-front price advantages, but the Forte’s resale outlook is significantly better than that of the Kia Spectra it replaced, making Kia’s newest compact car its most compelling ever.

Notable Equipment

Kia is proud to boast that even the most basic 2012 Kia Forte sedan includes Bluetooth phone connectivity, iPod integration, an AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM 4-speaker stereo, color-keyed manual side mirrors, 60/40-split rear seat with folding armrest, a tilt steering wheel, and an impressive array of safety equipment including six airbags, and electronic traction and stability control. Unfortunately, if you want such simple pleasures as power windows, remote keyless entry or cruise control, you’ll have to pony up a bit more cash and move up to the EX or SX trims. Here you’ll find a 6-speaker AM/FM/MP3/SiriusXM audio head unit, heated power side mirrors, and a tilt-telescopic steering wheel. Unique to the SX’s standard equipment list are 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport suspension, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and sport-fabric seats. The Koup (yes, that’s how Kia spells "coupe") models feature standard 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels. The LX trim comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, as do both the EX and EX Koup. All other Forte models and trims feature a 6-speed Sportronic automatic with manual-shift mode.

Notable Options

Options for the 2012 Kia Forte are limited to the EX and SX trims and include a number of packages as well as some stand-alone features. The 2012 Kia Forte EX sedan offers a Premium Package that adds alloy wheels and a power sunroof, as well as a Technology Package (sedan/hatchback/coupe) that includes navigation with Sirius real-time traffic updates, a rearview camera, automatic climate control, smart-key entry with push-button start, foglights and automatic headlights. The Forte SX offers the same package without the foglights and auto-on headlights, since both of these are already standard on the SX. Other options for the SX trim include leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

Favorite Features

Comprehensive Audio SystemEvery 2012 Kia Forte boasts a flexible AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite audio system with USB and auxiliary ports. When matched with the upgraded speakers, it’s among the best sound systems in the segment.BluetoothAn option reserved for most high-end models, Kia makes Bluetooth connectivity standard on every 2012 Kia Forte. Are you listening, Honda?

Under the Hood

The front-wheel-drive Kia Forte offers a 156-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that can be matched with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission. On top-line, sport-tuned SX trims the standard engine is a 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter engine. The 2012 Forte’s new automatic transmission has a manual-shift mode and is standard on SX and EX sedan and hatchback models, and available on the coupe. The mid-trim EX is also offered with a Fuel Economy Package that includes the 6-speed automatic plus Motor Drive Power Steering, a load-managing "smart" alternator, low-rolling-resistance tires and unique aero enhancements to boost its EPA numbers to 27/37 mpg and deliver class-leading city/highway combined fuel economy of 30 mpg. 2.0-liter in-line 4156 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm (SULEV: 154 @ 6200 rpm)144 lb-ft of torque @ 4,300 rpm (SULEV: 139 @ 4600 rpm)EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/34 (manual), 26/36 (automatic), 27/37 (Economy Package), 24/33 (manual, coupe), 25/33 (automatic, coupe)2.4-liter in-line 4 (Forte SX)173 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm (SULEV: 165 @ 6000 rpm)168 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm (SULEV: 161 @ 4000 rpm)EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/32, 22/32 (manual, Koup), 23/31 (automatic, Koup)

Editors' Notes

While many critics complain that some Japanese car companies have been resting on their laurels a bit too long, the Korean manufacturer Kia has been working overtime to improve its product line. Reveal after reveal shows Kia now has the upper hand over Honda and Toyota, at least in the areas of innovation, styling and fuel economy. One such example is the 2012 Kia Forte compact car, a Civic-sized competitor with loads of cool features demanded by today’s young drivers, a versatile model range including a 5-door hatchback and sporty coupe, and a price point designed to give the competition fits. Designed to lure customers from such stalwarts as the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze, the 2012 Kia Forte has its share of pros and cons when placed beside each of these cars. Still not as fun to drive as a Mazda3 or VW Golf, nor as upscale in feel as the Focus or Cruze, the 2012 Kia Forte compact sedan and coupe (Kia spells it "Koup") nevertheless offer a lot of value for the money, not to mention the standard 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Road Test Video Reviews

2012 Kia Forte Owner Reviews

175 Reviews
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Love this little car! Great on gas and handles beautifully!

2012 Kia Forte LX

It is a beautiful little car. Great for a first car but doesn't handle well on snow or ice. It gets pretty decent gas mileage in my opinion and I'm running it on back country roads and highways. Handles well and it's roomy for a small car. Automatic gears, satellite radio capability, phone pairing capabilities, large trunk, and seats 5. I have two car seats in the back and can comfortably fit another small passenger in the backseat. I did notice that once the gas got below half a tank that it does tend to go faster than when it is above half a tank. Came with a key fob to unlock doors and pop the trunk. Gas tank release is located on the driver side floor area. I don't know much about cars but the controls are clearly labeled and easy to understand. Lets me know when my tire pressure is low. Also has an outdoor temperature gage. It has a built in USB port to charge your phone as well as a port for an auxiliary cord. Radio is completely adjustable for bass and such and volume is good. It also has an anti lock brake system which is very nice especially when driving country roads when you never know when an animal may run out into the road. I haven't really had any problems with my car other than not really being able to drive it in the snow and ice. I would give it a solid 7 out of 10.

- Kayla H

First car I drove with a driver's license.

2012 Kia Forte

Tough little car that handles really well. A smooth ride and a cheaper choice for families. We've had our Kia for a while now, and it is handled road trips no problem. It is gone over 90 mph and has not had any problems besides a broken windshield from hail. It feels sportier than many small cars. The Forte also offers a host of impressive features such as Bluetooth and standard electronic stability control. Its is crash-test performance was good too. The car was available as a coupe or a hatchback, and offered an optional 2. 4-liter. While a big improvement, it still ranks below the class leaders. Downsides include a stiff ride, noisy engine and a mediocre driving position if you are taller. It is styled like Kia's sporty stinger, but the Forte's stock in trade is comfort and refinement. The four-cylinder engine is smooth but far from gutsy; it is all about fuel economy, and the Forte delivered 41 mpg highway in our testing. The cabin looks and feels upscale and features standard touchscreen infotainment, Apple CarPlay, android auto, and dual-zone automatic climate control. A slew of active-safety features are offered, including standard automated emergency braking and optional adaptive cruise control.

- Deme S

2012 Kia Forte is just a great all-around car.

2012 Kia Forte LX

This Kia has been a great vehicle for the past 3 years. I find that all of the seats are spacious and comfortable, and there is a good amount of storage space for drinks, manuals, cargo, and such. The controls are great. I haven't had any problems with the steering, and the performance is quite sporty while also still feeling sensible. But I can say that the brakes are not as stiff/responsive as other cars I have driven. Essentially you just have to push down a little further to get the same amount of deceleration. It isn't too hard to get used to, however. The odometer/radio/etc. glows in a bright red, which can be disorienting at times. The car does have the option to dim or brighten the display, though. The main problems I've had with this vehicle are mostly due to the fact that it was bought second-hand. The steering wheel was angled a bit and needed to be readjusted, and the A/C had a few problems. But I'm sure a Forte bought new wouldn't have these problems. In my experience, Kia Forte is a great little car. If you need a good personal or business vehicle, I can definitely recommend it.

- Eric B

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